January 12

Vain, I’m fatter than I want to be.

I raked leaves with my father today. They were wet underneath with all the rain of December and some of the rain of January. They were dry on top.

We raked them into a blanket which I bought at the nearly new store for 3.99. (That day, I bought the blanket and a filing cabinet, and I played a bunch of pianos, all of which were badly out of tune).

And put them into a wheelbarrow and wheeled them to the woods and lifted the woods so the leaves fell into the woods.

We took turns raking, pushing the wheelbarrow, and pausing to lean on the rake and look into the middle distance at the road and the neighbor stealing gravel from the road to put in her yard.

We tried not to get too much gravel on the blanket, because it was heavy enough, with all the wet leaves.

I caught a whiff of the smell of the leaves, and it was a good smell that reminded me of past Autumns, even though this is January. It reminded me of my Father and my sister and raking leaves into a pile and jumping into it.

We were finished before long, and my father and I went to the Rock store to buy a flagstone or two, for the top of the sidewalk where it meets the road.

The Rock store is usually open til 3, but today it closed at 12. Winter Hours.

My father had heard of a different rock store that someone told him about, so we went to look for it but found nothing.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and did a search but found no rock store.

So we drove to a nursery and went in and my father either asked about rocks or looked at plants, I’m not sure which.

Then we got a hot dog with onions, chili, and slaw. We split a bag of fries. The crinkle cut kind.

At the hot dog place was a couple who had never been to the hot dog place. I asked where they were from, expecting an answer like New York or CT, given their accents, which I judged to be Northeastern. They were from Pinehurst, though.

My father and I came home and I went to work on some music. My father went to get the leaf blower.

He wasn’t finished. There were more leaves to get, to blow into a pile to be raked later.

January 11th

I don’t want to write.

So with apologies to myself and forgiveness for myself

Maybe i won’t.

I won’t catalog the mundane and the malevolent, the execrable

and the sublime.

But you kind of have to catalog them. you have to be specific.

To be vague is to give you work to do. Tedious work at that.

I could tell you about the young woman and man who got into my car, and I gave them a ride.

To make them interesting you have to catalog particulars. To make an image.

Well I will tell you this. His orthodontist was his first girlfriend’s father. And he said “He knew my mouth better than she did” and it was funny and slightly off-color and slightly weird, and it feels weird to relate it here. So personal. And weird.

And I have different types of folks reading this — not too many of you — maybe 20 or so, but you are all different, and I wonder what you will think of me that I related this.

Or what you might think if I related what I really think, about this small inconsequential thing, and about bigger things which I think are consequential but might not be.

Anyway, well. There was a distance between them. A coolness, and she didn’t want there to be a coolness, but she was too cool to let it be known that she knew there was a coolness and that furthermore she didn’t like it. So she maintained the small icy chasm between them and so did he. But she wanted the chasm closed and he was fine with the chasm. And you wanted to tell her to save some time and ditch him, but of course that would have been inappropriate. “You can drop us by the mailbox,” she said with a slight icy remove, as they opened the doors to get out. So much icy remove in the car, and I was glad I wasn’t getting out with them. They didn’t tip. Few people tip, really. Least of all young people.

I’ve got my own icy remove in my own self. That cold locomotive waiting to be stoked. Sitting out in the desolate rail-yard. Gleaming in the moonlight.

Or maybe it’s a pilot light which has gone out.

Once in Brooklyn our pilot light went out in the winter and the house got very cold.

The landlady’s son, Dimitri, called me. Told me to grab a flashlight and walked me through turning the pilot light back on. It was touch and go but we got it to come on, and he cheered over the phone.

Dimitri could — can — fix anything — is an inventor and inveterate tinkerer. Fixing engines, air conditioners. A breeze-in-and-out-er. He breezed in, breezed out. He’s breezy and women like him. Everyone likes him. He called me J, which isn’t that unusual. He breezed in, cup of coffee in hand, at 2 am, said how’s it going J, breezed out. He was always driving his big Dodge Ram truck out to the Hamptons or up to the Catskills, or down to the coast of NC, as it happens.

My landlady has 4 sons, all of whom have (or had, as some of them are greying) dark wavy hair. They are Greek. They kind of look, more or less, like the actor John Cassavetes. Good-looking boys.

I occasionally got mistaken for one of them. “You one of Joanne’s boys?” “Nope, just a boarder.”

One of them has a girlfriend who used to date one of the the Ramones. Or maybe it was the bass player from Blondie. Whoops I can’t remember.

One of them is a restaurateur.

One of them works for the City Planning department, and

One of them is in finance.

Right before I moved, this last, Charles, said he’d always contemplated leaving NYC. “Good for you for having the guts to try living in different places. Maybe one day I’ll try to live somewhere else. But I can’t help staying put.”

January 10th

Today I wanted to feel different and so I set off.

I had a work meeting during which I wanted to feel different. After the meeting I met with a friend. We sat in a coffeeshop and it was too loud so we moved to a fast food restaurant which was quieter.

Not a good friend. I mean, a good friend because he’s good and he’s a friend, but not someone I know well though maybe that will change. He wasn’t hungry; I ordered a chicken salad.

It came with a big bag of dressing but I could tell the chicken was already glazed with something sweet so I didn’t use the dressing.

We chatted about something I can’t talk about so what’s the point of me telling you now? I don’t know.

A man in a wheelchair said he had some advice for a man my age, and proceeded to tell me some stock to buy. “What are you, 26? You’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re 65.” I told him I was not 26, but 46. “Ok, maybe you won’t be a millionaire, but you should still buy the stock.” I was glad, as I always am, to be mistaken for someone younger than I am, but a little annoyed to no longer be a prospective millionaire. The man lingered. He wanted to talk. He wanted to know the relationship between my friend and me, without coming right out and asking. He lingered. “Do you two go to church together? You hang out a lot?”

“We’re old friends,” I said. He said “I’m sorry for bothering you,” and wheeled off.

My friend left to go sit in the carpool lane at his son’s school. I still wanted to feel different. I went to get a haircut at a place called Great Clips. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

In Brooklyn my go-to barbershop was the East West Happy Barbershop with 2 chairs and one barber, a Bengali man named Benu. He looked a lot like the actor Enrico Colantoni. I’d see him in the neighborhood and he’d wave at me. Sometimes I’d go to get my hair cut and he’d say “I saw you the other day, walking by.” Sometimes I’d walk by and wave at him.

He only charged $10.00 for a haircut and I gave him a $5.00 tip, every time. One thing about NY is, for me it was not so expensive. In many ways the cost of living in NY was less expensive for me than the cost of living in Durham and Raleigh, NC. It was a land of $10 haircuts and $1 pints of blueberries. In fact, one of the places I’d see Benu out and about was in the fruit market. I went to the fruit market almost every single day. I ate a ton of fruit.

Here in Raleigh I eat less fruit, because it costs more. Fewer blueberries, anyway.

I still wanted to feel different so I contemplated some things and some places and some people that could make me feel different, but I ended up going to the woods and walked to the lake and looked at the lake.

There were ripples in the sun, moving to the left. I could see them through a chain link fence which had a vine growing on it. So the vines were bisecting the chain link wires which were bisecting the ripples. Every line was being cut, or, was every line being connected? Connected or separated? I wasn’t sure and it put me in mind of the quote by Simone Weil: “Every separation is a link.”

I gave a talk on that quote once and I’d have to do some hard remembering to tell you what I said in my talk. It seems like a lifetime ago. But the gist of it is, if you feel far away from God, maybe your separation can be a link to God. For God himself was separated from God, in the person of Christ on the cross. Maybe separation from God is inextricable from knowing God — is in fact a means by which to know God. Maybe, in fact, separation from God is *the only* means by which we may know God. Not sure about that. But watching those ripples making their way through, behind, and across the chain link fence, I caught the merest hint of how I want to feel. A little joy-portal opened up somewhere, then slammed shut. But when it was open I remembered to thank God for the sun, which had turned a deep glowing orange, and was turning everything its same color.

January 9th

I think about what I want to do.

Think about what I want to have done.

The sun is shining on a white lattice.

It’s crisp and cold outside and I want to feel it on my cheek and

I want to feel vital, strong, new, different, onto something, on a roll, in the know
In the clear,

past it.

Desirable and desired.

Inside it’s dark hot and close.

There is a train inside me dark and cold.

I need some coal and a coalman to shovel the coal where the coal goes.

I need a lot of things.

Stoke my cold locomotive.

Well first I got to get to a bigger window.

I can barely see the light.

———————-

“It’s the elephant in the room,” we say, as if an elephant would quietly sit
Or lie
On the floor
Quiet as a mouse, muscles tensed hoping not to be noticed, talked about
or pointed out.

Or as if the elephant were a
wallflower at the school dance, shyly sitting on a folding chair sipping punch,
yearning to chat with the prettiest girl or
Slow-dance with
The cocky prom king.

If the elephant in the room is an elephant

He’s ancient, strong, proud, regal.

He doesn’t care for your room nor mine, nor does he regard them.

Mind you, he’s not rude nor does he wish you ill, but he doesn’t belong in our rooms.
HHe will bust out, leaving an elephantine hole in the wall
If he leaves a wall at all.

Elephants are social. The elephant in the room wants to find his friends and family he wants to make a loud noise, i mean he has an actual deafening musical instrument for a nose which is also an extra hand for grasping things, maybe a candy from a dish on your table or an interesting tchotcke from your shelf, which he’ll stick in his pouch. Oh, wait that’s a kangaroo. What do I look like, a zoologist?

He’ll grab it on the way. On his way

out of the room.

Leaving us without a metaphor.

January 8th

I think I might make this blog all about the pain in my feet. Just foot-complainin’. That’d be real good. Or I could branch out into other kinds of complainin’. My feet are tore up for real though. I need to stop walking so much.

The weather’s turning nice. It’s a bad time to have to be off my feet, but I think I’m going to have to find other means of exercise like biking or swimming or rowing.

Ahh that’s some premium foot-complainin’.

A dark night of the sole.

Thanks, I’ll be here all night, don’t forget to tip your waitperson.

Today I made a spinach casserole and tomato soup which was just campbells with diced tomatoes and chicken stock. I’m enjoying cooking though. I made a really good split pea soup awhile back.

I’m so tired. Today’s writing is of the sort where I really think it’d be better to say nothing at all. Hm, but I made myself that challenge to write every day and it’d be bad to miss a day only 7 days in.

I just thought that I should say something I’m thankful for and it’s this: I’m so excited to go to bed early (10 ish) and wake up early and to have a very productive day tomorrow. I think I will do my writing earlier in the day tomorrow. And make a list and a schedule and be a whirlwind of productivity.

January 7th.

I slept late today after spending yesterday at church and then driving Uber until late at night. I was pretty spent. That’s perhaps the problem with Uber. It takes me a day to recover. It felt good to sleep late, drink coffee and then go for a long walk. A long walk on the muddy golf course. It’s been a rainy winter. All my shoes are filthy and caked with mud. I haven’t been running lately, though I love to run, because my feet have been giving me more problems than normal. Tendonitis and just general pain. But I have been walking. I listened to a Rachel Maddow podcast about Spiro Agnew. Something about the 70s history and 70s culture in general that scratches an itch in my unconscious (unconsciousness? I don’t know which is correct.) I love 70s muscle cars, 70s cop shows, 70s movies, books, news reports. So I’m a sucker for Watergate-era documentaries and stories. The BBC did a great Watergate documentary that is (or was) on youtube. I think I like the 70s era because it was the twilight of my consciousness and of course there’s some nostalgia there and the 70s stuff helps me return and remember that era, which was a good era. I was happy then; I lacked nothing. Of course I like it.

Tonight I ate dinner with my parents and watched some football with my dad. He loves football. Whichever gene it is that makes people like football was not passed to me. So I rarely watch football, but tonight I did. I watched the pregame show with some troops marching and a bomber flying overhead and a giant flag unfurled and a guy I hadn’t heard of singing the anthem, with extra cloying melisma. I still love the USA and will probably always be someone who stands for the anthem with my hand over my heart. I remember being 4 years old in 1976 and turning to the flag and pledging allegiance with Gerald Ford looking on approvingly from a portrait on the wall. It was what I was taught should be done and it’s what I still do. I guess there is a quasi-religious element in there which should make me uncomfortable. I mean, an allegiance to a flag? Hm.

At the same time that I am patriotic I am skeptical of the reflexive and over-weening patriotism I see in certain quarters. I’m over it. The stupid kneeling debate. The ubiquitous flag-pin on the lapels of politicians. I swear I’ll vote for the re-animated corpse of Karl Marx himself if he promises not to wear a flag pin. That’s something I’d be afraid to say on FB because some of my conservative friends and/or fans would take it the wrong way, *or* it would start a stupid argument in the comments section. Man I do not miss moderating arguments in the facebook section of Facebook. That sounds like Hell. Oh also the US is the world’s largest arms dealer by a large margin. That ought to make every American a tiny bit uncomfortable. Or, a lot uncomfortable. Every anthem-singing is invariably accompanied by some military display. I’ll still stand for the anthem, but I will never second-guess the choice of anyone not to.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my parents. I wonder if perhaps this is unnatural or something I should resist. I do resist a little. but Meh. I don’t care. I like them, they like me and I am blessed to have them. And I won’t have them forever. I won’t be here forever either for that matter. For now I am here and I want to hang out with my family.

I needed a break. I needed a break from not being around family so now I am quite around family, and that is A OK. Nothing wrong with that.

Across From Me #2.

I don’t have a lot of time to write today. I woke up super early to arrive at church and rehearse before the service at Midtown Community Church in Raleigh where I’m now working. After church I drove Uber for an hour or so then came home to charge my phone. I’m having some trouble with the Uber app. It’s beautiful outside. It’s a day I’d rather be out walking beside the river. Perhaps I shouldn’t be working on Sunday, but I need money and I’m not super tired so I think I will drive for 5-6 hours and see how it goes.

I did a search for more “across from me photos.” Here’s another one, from a Bronx-bound 1 train. As it happens, it also features a dog, who was somewhat being used as a pillow. Apparently I’m less self-conscious about taking someone’s photo if they have a pet with them.

Bronx-bound 1 train

Gallery

Across from me

I knew a woman who for awhile had a blog called “across from me” where every day she’d post a picture she took of people on the subway sitting across from her. I thought that’s a good idea, to have a theme — a hook — for a blog. But that’s all it was. I think she doesn’t update it anymore. I tried for awhile. I’ve taken a few pictures of people on the subway. But mostly I’m too self-conscious. once, in fact a guy told me to stop taking his picture. This wasn’t on the subway but on Coney Island. I was taking a panorama shot, and he was in the way. Big ol cranky guy. He said “not everyone likes having their picture taken.” Heh. Vain fella. He was just in the way of the sunset.

I did take a ton of pictures in New York City. Hundreds a week. Here in NC I’ve only taken a few. Maybe 40 since I’ve been here. Another thing I haven’t done much is get on social media. I’ve enjoyed the break. Sometimes maintaining a social media presence is a job all by itself. But I worry if I am losing people — losing my friends, losing my audience — in some ways losing myself. It’s weird to have our relationships curated by a big corporation. It’s unnatural. And then there’s a fear of non-response. I don’t like feeling this way but there’s the “what if I click ‘like'” and they don’t respond in anyway?” Feeling. I’ve been on both sides of that feeling. Ignoring on Facebook and being ignored. One fan from way back sent me a friend request and I wrote him back and apologized but told him I wouldn’t accept because I was trying to separate my personal page and my music page. I asked him to “like” my music page instead, but he didn’t. I was kind of irritated. I wanted the connection, but couldn’t rightly call him a friend. I guess people want that more personal connection. I’ve been guilty of the same thing. “Friending” people I don’t know that well. Once I wrote a fan email to Ann-Margaret, in the pre-facebook days. Her assistant wrote me back and said “believe me, it is appreciated.” Heh. That’s a different thing though. I have some people on my facebook feed I barely know, or do not know at all. Facebook had a thing where it would show you how many “likes” or reactions you had clicked or produced, and my number was astronomically, depressingly high. I didn’t like it. So I’m enjoying spending less time on facebook. I hope I can keep my audience though. And, of course, my friends.

So here’s a picture I took on the subway — a Manhattan-bound B train. The guy might have been taking his dog to the vet. He had a lot of nervous energy and kept nuzzling, petting, and canoodling with the dog. He seemed worried. The woman is interesting-looking too. I always like seeing people read on the subway. If I saw someone reading on the subway I’d try to go sit as close to them as possible, because their presence was invariably calming, as opposed to the majority of people hammering away at or yammering away on their phones. There’s something grounding and soothing about a person reading a book. A book makes one more present while smartphones seem to take us out of the present.

Manhattan-Bound B Train

Friday January 4th. Durham and Raleigh, NC.

Painting by numbers,
What’s the color of 9.

Counting by colors. White, grey, white, yellow.
blackasphalt, grey granite, white sky, yellow grass,
a golfer in grey on a yellow green tosses a plastic vodka bottle, small and clear, onto the grass.
It lands silently for me to find later when I go on the green after-hours.

But now I’m walking past him on the street which goes by the golf course.
Walking my Mom’s little black dog.

The golfer is setting up for a putt, bent over as if in prayer, or meditating.
I wonder how the vodka fumes feel traveling through the nose to the back of the tongue, or vice versa.
Feels good, I know. I remember.

What do we call that body part where the soft palate meets the nose, where the vapors go.
what color would it be. Dark deepest red, where the acrid non-flavor nests and settles in.

Breathe.

He makes the putt.
Looks at me, I look back, think of saying “nice putt.”

I could have, who cares. I say nothing, he says nothing,
He gets in his golf cart and glides away.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Nothing lost either.

I keep walking.

—————–

I met with the Pastor of the new church where I am worship director. We met at a Thai restaurant on its final day as a Thai restaurant. The waiter tells us they are changing their menu, becoming a crab shack due to demand. They will still retain some Thai items. I ordered the green curry, plenty spicy, and it was plenty spicy. I had to keep ordering water, and also ordered one side of rice. It took me a while to taste the meal. It was so spicy, I was just kind of shoveling it in, then when it was over, I tasted the hint and remnant of what i had eaten. The kind of rough peppery fragrant burning.

My pastor and I were 2 of only 4 people in the place, and it had a 200-person occupancy. That’s not a good sign. The waiter still seemed over-worked. My constant requests for water probably didn’t help. Why not just bring a pitcher? I was a waiter once. If I had a customer who ordered 4 pints of water, no ice in a row I’d bring a pitcher. I’m smart like that. A genius one might say, if one were inclined to be very very accurate.

Actually I wasn’t a great waiter at the restaurant where I used to work in Durham, circa 1992. I was friendly — too friendly — but slow, and I daydreamed. I worked in a restaurant which was also a used bookstore, and I’d get lost in the stacks. I spent all my paycheck on beer and books. I’ve written about this before, I think. It was a really fun period of my life. Drinking, playing cards, listening to music, not caring. I wasn’t bedeviled by self-consciousness. I didn’t play many gigs, and when I finally did play one, people were impressed at the secret talent I’d been hiding. Under a bushel (no! I’m gonna let it shine).

Years later I received a card from one of my former co-workers — a woman named Allison, who now resided in College Station TX. The card said “I always wanted to say that I admired whatever it is — whatever was inside you — that made you go.” Gee that was a nice statement. I never knew Allison noticed me at all, much less admired me. She was a super type A good waitress. If I’d known she admired me I probably would have tried to like her or date her and who knows how that would have gone. Better the way it went. I only dated — very briefly, one of my coworkers, a woman who is a gifted writer who wrote me a poem I still treasure. She told me she would write “fields of poetry as green as your eyes.” My boss — John — wanted to fire me. He didn’t like me, never liked me. I think I was too slow, and unprofessional. And showed up late. But he had a manager — Kim. And Kim the manager liked me. Loved me. And I loved her. She was always smiling and so fun, and kept the place ticking and humming along. Kim went to bat for me and told John he shouldn’t fire me. The customers liked me. So he kept me. What a mensch, really. I mean, to go against his instincts and let his manager manage, and follow her instincts and keep me. He was a good guy. A former New Yorker. We were a family. There was a family feel. I miss those people. I’m friends with 3 or 4 of them on Facebook, and even manage to see 1 or 2 of them in the flesh here and there. I miss those days. All the more being back here.

————————

I went to Ross. The Department store. Found some deals. Oh the deals you can find at Ross. There were some Good Year Shoes for $25. They had a big bright Good Year Logo with the tire and the wings in blue and yellow. They looked like hiking boots and I needed some. I’m bedeviled by foot problems. Self consciousness and foot problems, my twin bedevilments. Sounds like a Tom Waits song. Actually I have several bedevilments; those are only two of them. I really need to write this Tom Waits song — any Tom Waits song.

There was a salesman hunched over a newspaper, a scruffy looking millennial guy. I said, “What do you hear about these shoes?” Meaning, what do customers say after having bought them. “Oh you look great. You sure got my attention,” he said, with enthusisasm that did not sound real in the slightest. He should not quit his job at Ross and become an actor. “That’s exactly why I’d be buying these Good Year shoes — to get the attention of guys like you,” I said. He laughed at that. “What I meant was, are they good shoes? Good for hiking,” I said. “I have no fricking clue man,” he said. I bought them. $25, how could I not. I bought a bunch of other stuff, priced to sell. socks. insoles, nose hair trimmer, back and shoulder massager, portable phone charger made by duracell, in the shape of a duracell battery. The kind of stuff an old guy would buy, I know. you can say it. I mean, Good Year shoes? Uff. But Ross has deals. If anyone tries to tell you Ross doesn’t have deals, you tell them to hush.